GAINESVILLE, Fla. – To say NHRA rookie of the year frontrunner Justin Ashley is on a roll headed into the historic NHRA Gatornationals is a bit of an understatement.
The young driver of the Strutmasters.com Top Fuel dragster powered by Manscaped picked up his first win over Labor Day weekend at the rescheduled Summernationals, defeating TJ Zizzo.
Then on Sunday, he raced to a semifinal finish at the U.S. Nationals in one of the wildest elimination rounds in recent history.
This weekend, Ashley returns to Gainesville Raceway, looking for his second Top Fuel win at a facility he already has a win in Top Alcohol Dragster competition from 2017.
“We had an amazing weekend in Indianapolis with the Strutmasters.com powered by MANSCAPED Top Fuel team,” said Ashley, who moved up to fourth place in the Top Fuel points. “It was such an exciting moment to see all the hard work these guys have put in pay off getting that first win. We had to wait a while but it was worth it. TJ (Zizzo) is a great competitor and I know he will get wins down the road.
“I was just glad to share that win with my dad (Mike Ashley) and all the people that have supported us with Davis Motorsports and sponsors like SanIt, Guard Lab and of course Strutmasters.com and Manscaped.”
While the win was significant, Ashley’s first race day as a Top Fuel pilot at the U.S. Nationals will be talked about for years to come.
He grabbed an upset win over No. 4 qualifier Billy Torrence in the first round and then took out Mello Yello Top Fuel point leader Doug Kalitta in the quarterfinals. Ashley’s skill on the starting line was the difference in advancing him to a semifinal match-up with Kalitta’s teammate Shawn Langdon.
Both dragsters launched together and then almost simultaneously went into severe tire smoke. Each driver was on and off the throttle battling their race cars for control and momentum as they lurched towards the finish line.
Ashley at one point had his nearly 30-foot-long dragster sideways in his lane before he succumbed to Langdon’s winning time.
“That was a wild ride,” explained Ashley after the run. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. That was the first time that I have really had to pedal my dragster. I was just doing everything I could to try and get it to hook up so we could get that win. Shawn is a tough competitor and I knew he had his hands full also.
“That was a race I won’t ever forget. Even though I didn’t get the win light I learned a ton about controlling this 11,000 horsepower dragster.”
The Gatornationals is another historic race on the NHRA tour, traditionally contested in March, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic was rescheduled for late September.
The change of season should not affect the team, and Ashley is eager to get another win at Gainesville Raceway. In 2017 Ashley, at his first national event, picked up his first Top Alcohol Dragster win over Rich McPhillips.
In that race Ashley had to chase down McPhillips for the win.
“I remember that first win in Gainesville so well. It was my first national event in Top Alcohol Dragster and we raced to the final and the win. I would love to get another Gatornationals win,” added Ashley. “This track has so much history to add my name to the list of Top Fuel winners would be amazing. This team has been preparing for this race since we left the U.S. Nationals and we have a lot of confidence.
“I think we can make a run for the championship as long as we keep working hard.”